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After a company restructuring last year, Shaquell Truesdale, 35, an operations quality manager in Baltimore, expected some work-related stress. “I had worked in this industry for a while, so I was used to stressful periods that come and go,” she says. But after six months, Truesdale continued to feel overwhelmed and started having insomnia and skin blemishes. “It got progressively worse,” she says, prompting the realization that she was experiencing a more serious form of anxiety.
“Normal anxiety is from a specific known cause, happens rarely, and even though it’s very uncomfortable, you can tolerate it until is subsides,” says Lisa Slade Martin, a psychologist who practices in Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Delaware. “Problematic anxiety is when there are several causes, when it happens often, and when it feels too difficult to tolerate and doesn’t seem to subside soon enough.”
Another way to determine whether anxiety has become a problem is to evaluate whether it is helping you or hindering you at work, says Karinn Glover, a psychiatry resident in New York City. She says it is OK if anxiety makes you work harder so you do well on a company presentation, but if anxiety causes you to miss work to avoid a big meeting, for example, that indicates a problem.
“If a person is unable to sleep for more than two weeks, gains or loses a lot of weight, or unable to manage simple things like getting out of bed or showering, the anxiety is serious,” says Glover.
When Truesdale realized her workplace environment was the cause of her anxiety, she handed in her resignation. Her boss, unwilling to let her go, agreed to a lighter schedule and her working from home.
Those who find themselves suffering might need to speak with a mental health professional. Check with your company’s employee assistance program or talk to your primary care physician about getting a referral to a psychologist.
“We have our stresses, but we have our healthy ways of coping — we pray, we go for a walk, we take a nap,” says Glover. “When you get to a point where you can’t cope, when you feel like you’re going to jump out of your skin, that’s when you need help.”